Putnam’s Two Level Game

“Two Level Game”[1]

Understanding international agreements is one of the most challenging tasks. We live in a time of interdependence and no method will illustrate definitively how to design, draft and negotiate treaties on a global scale. Moreover, there are few sources, which will be helpful in developing a thorough understanding of how these demanding tasks are successfully executed. One of these sources is Putnam’s Two Level Game– it is relevant because it crafts a non static model that happens to unveil important aspects that must be considered.

While thinking about this article a few questions arise. First, are democratic systems and treaty compliance related? If so, are democratic nations more zealous to comply international agreements than non-democracies? This aspect caught my eye. Putnam’s method explores two scenarios: international and domestic. On one hand, the international level has evolved into a dynamic system, increasingly important to approach several issues only solvable by global cooperation. On the other hand we have domestic politics, which all have different kinds and quantities of win set scenarios, varying from regime to regime. What really got me thinking is that democracies tend to have more active constituencies, which is reflected in a higher number of win sets with different strengths. In this case, there are many voices and multiple participants that demand attention from their representatives. Without a democracy, the win set scenarios are dramatically reduced and the strength of each one of them is increased– Ali Jamenei has a small win set, but its strength noticeable. Win sets are not democratically exclusive; however, they indeed represent very different things depending their current form of government.

Now, transcending these questions, are democracies prone to comply international agreements despite how ‘soft’ they might be? The question is complex. The US is the model of modern democratic nation; yet, some vital international agreements are far from being complied with. On the other hand, in autocracies, dictatorships or similar forms of government have small and strong win sets and tend to be change-averse. In my opinion the relation of democracies and compliance is truly reflected in Putnam’s Two Level Game since he visualizes an increasingly complex context to which state-centric views are outdated and are being shifted by globalization, potentializing the need to interact with multilevel representation. This is different from the original view of the author starting with how easily you get information– technology has changed this game for good. In my opinion democratization means change, change means compliance. Therefore, knowing if a party has more incentives to comply requires to understand their levels and what they have on stake.

Another thing that I found very useful about Putnam’s article is the vision of the effect of international affairs affect domestic affairs. A good player at this game, knows that if he has not only one win set, but a broad range of options he can form coalitions to achieve results, therefore the international agenda is one good excuse to strengthen your local leverage. It is really a two level game when you use both stages to one end: position and power, both local and global. This is the case of many Mexican reforms that took place over the past six years– starting with security and judicial reforms to reforms designed for meeting international standards of human rights.

In conclusion, I strongly believe that The Two Level Game is a model, which enables parties to analyze methodically key elements of a negotiation. Putnam’s article helps you to understand thoroughly the background and context that determined the positions involved and how strong they are towards bargaining. However, I still have the unsolved questions about how to prove the existence in the relation of democracies and compliance exist and how Putnam’s method would be updated to an era of deep national integration.


[1] Putnam, R. “Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games.” International Organization. 1988), pp. 427-460.

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